Just Code: Digital Consciousnesses, Artificial Lifeforms, and Ethics

“It sits there looking at me; and I don’t know what it is. ” – Captain Phillipa Louvois, Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Measure of a Man”

Data’s Positronic Brain

In Science Fiction, the idea of sentient artificial lifeforms is a long and colorful one. I remember encountering this as a young sci-fi fan with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man” where Data, an android and Starfleet officer, is put on trial to determine if he is Starfleet property or a person at all. Arguments back and forth consume the conflict of the episode, and the final determination is not so concrete as one might think.

But Star Trek is a wholesome universe! In more recent speculative fiction, this argument opens up deeper questions, especially in the realm of the digital self, identity, consent, and ethics.

Hit TV Show Black Mirror has dealt with the idea of consciousness a lot in their most recent 4th season. From references to UN regulations and the idea of consent for a digital body, the question boils down to the sense of self when examined internally versus externally. Is a digital copy a real person? Does it have an identity? Does it have a soul?

Black Mirror, which serves as a great inspiration for much of the horror-tech of the Cold Start universe, of course didn’t invent this conflict. I remember that deep feeling of loss playing Sci-fi horror game SOMA, where the player is in the position of being one of said digital copies. At several points in the story, this consciousness is split into complete, whole sentient beings. The question becomes: which one is real? Are they both real? Are they people at all?

“USS Callister”

The episode USS Callister (which, ironically, parodies Star Trek) deals greatly with this subject. In this episode people have their DNA harvested and turned into digital clones which retain memories and sense of self-identity despite being only digital copies. To each of these copies, they are real and have the full sense of self and personality that accompanies that identity. to the main character of the episode, Robert Daly, they are playthings he can abuse and torment in his world. Daly’s setup as the obvious bad guy in this episode is easily cemented when he clones in a 6-year-old boy only to toss him out of an airlock.

Let us examine, however, perspective in relation to these sentient beings. The reference to someone being “just code” is a clear message–are they people? Does Daly even consider what he has done to be ethically wrong? Are they alive?

Before you scream out “Of course they are”, let’s put this technology in perspective. If you’re a 90’s kid like me, you owned a Tamagotchi. You cared for it, you fed it, and eventually you forgot about it. It was never alive, and it was just a plaything. It was just a bit of code, existing in a small computer. Now you push the dial of technology a bit further forward and you have games like Dogz and immersive RPGs with complex coded characters like Skyrim. both of these games are different in the way they are coded and the characters inside are constructs made out of “just code”. Are they real? do they have sentience? Are they alive? Of course not. (That said, I am known to apologize before doing bad things to people in Skyrim.)

Molly Frost, Grand Master of the Nihilistium

Let us push beyond the boundaries into Cold Start. In the game it is implied, several times, that the entire Span is nothing more than a simulation running concurrently with countless other simulations. This is the “blasphemous” doctrine of the Nihilistium and its leader, Molly Frost. Assuming that theory is correct, the people within are millions upon millions of “just code” people existing only to serve the Overseer in its endless task to efficiently manage the human race.

The determination of what is and is not alive, and who does or does not have rights is a matter that we slowly inch toward in the real world. Computers become more and more human-like each day, with massively-powerful intelligence engines that, with the power of crowdsourcing, become more and more indistinguishable from people. When do they become alive? And how will we treat them? The ethics here remain open for us to speculate upon.

Judge Advocate Louvois from “The Measure of a Man” puts the ethical grey area of sentience in some of the best terms:

This case has dealt with metaphysics – with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I am neither competent nor qualified to answer those. But I’ve got to make a ruling, to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We have all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don’t know that he has. I don’t know that I have. But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself.

The Cold Start RPG Alpha Playtest is available on DriveThruRPG. Pay what you want or get it free–your choice.

Gencon Debrief Part One; “Transport Failure” Session summary

GenCon has come and gone! I was lucky enough to be a part of it and even moreso to run playtests the entire weekend. Here I would like to share the debrief of some of the things learned, adventures shared, and fun times had.

Stats

The games used pre-generated characters using creation rules from the Public Alpha Release. The game used those rules with very few minor modifications.

A total of Four playtests were scheduled, with one pickup game added. All but one game were sold out in their entirety. Four separate adventures were run with pre-generated characters. All of the games except one were run using Rank 3 characters. The final game used Rank 4 characters. A total of 21 people played Cold Start over the weekend. One person played in more than one session.

Breakdowns of each individual session will be released soon with more notes, starting with Transport Failure (below). stay tuned.

Random things I tracked:

  • number of successes rolled: 192
  • number of face-7’s rolled (Die was a natural 7): 83
  • Damage points dealt: 55
  • number of times “Populus Est” was said: 13
  • Sympathy lost: 8
  • Sympathy gained: 21

Transport Failure

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The players were hired by a member of /mod.. to transport some mysterious, unlabeled boxes from point A to point B and not ask too many questions. The party consisted of a Blue Hand (Brother Nott), a Red Shift (Jumpstar Jones), a Knight (Lt. Kay), a Fizex associate (Tom), and a Gold Man (Reece).

Before taking off, the group got some provisions. after a small fight broke out on the launch pad, the group heads aboard and got settled. Aboard the ship owned by the Red Shift Pilot, the Knights gave strict instructions that anyone found in the cargo bay would be arrested and put in the brig. Three NPC passengers joined them as well. The Gold man used his free +2 Crew and hired dancing girls to hang out in the ship. And the Blue Hand? He was super suspicious of the Fizex guy who really wanted to know what exactly was in those boxes.

The ship took off and Tom started snooping. Under the guise of “Checking the ship’s power”, he made his way into the cargo bay and started investigating the boxes. Brother Not guy eventually went in with him and they debated whether they would still get paid if they opened it, and whether or not whatever inside was dangerous. Jumpstar Jones came over the intercom and warned them to get out of the cargo bay. As they exited the cargo bay, the Party began to notice that one of the NPC passengers was missing.

Something’s definitely wrong aboard the ship. Through some convincing and threats, the party decides it’s okay to open ONE box, just as long as they don’t steal what’s inside (because that would be against the Laws of Order.) Brother Nott used Dismantle on the box and it opened.

Inside was a young girl, her head inside some kind of jury-rigged headpiece, presently undergoing mental torture.

They removed her from her box, and found out she had been kidnapped, but didn’t know her captors. The group start to suspect that whoever hired them might not be a real member of /mod.., and even worse, began to suspect that a member of the Nihilistium might be among them, hiding just out of sight. But where? The Fizex engineer suspected the vents, and came up with a plan.

Gathering the ships’s inhabitants together, he used Engineering on the ventilation system, flooding it with anethetic gas for a few minutes and then searching for the Nihilistium agent. Locating him, the party tied him up and started interrogation. The result: these boxes were being shipped by the Nihilistium, and the people on the other end of the route were only posing as Cappers. He then resigns himself to his fate–being killed as a wretch.

Tom the Engineer wasn’t satisfied. “You can redeem yourself,” he tells the Nihilistium agent, “If you contract with me, we can bring you back into society.”

The party isn’t happy. “He’s a wretch, we should kill him.” “He hurt this innocent girl.” “You can’t let him live!” “It goes against the Laws!” (Note: This player then quoted the First Law of Order so matter-of-factly, it gave me chills.)

But the Engineer wasn’t satisfied still, and he took the Nihilistium Wretch into his protection, locking him in a room until something could be figured out. They had other agents to kill, he argued, and they might be able to save them too.

Jumpstar Jones, in a display of piloting befitting his Guild, got them to their destination early. They set a trap, preparing the (now empty) boxes to be picked up. And soon, the bad guys arrived, dressed as Cappers and ready to get in and get out.

Cue the fightscene! The knight attacked first, after some attempts at negotiation that went awry. Soon the three agents are dead, and that leaves only the one left on the ship. The party went back, explained to him that all his friends were dead, and in a moment of beautiful emotional roleplaying, gave him one chance: turn away from his heretical beliefs or perish.

The Agent gives in, and agrees to be cleansed by a Judex and return to society.

Debrief

That last part about being “cleansed” by a Judex? That didn’t exist until this game because I, as a writer, didn’t expect the idea of redemption to be so strong among my players. “No one is beyond redemption,” the player who played the Engineer told me, “And everyone deserves a choice.” I was very moved by those words, and inspired to change a bit about how the Judex operate.

I also got to introduce some of the Nihilistium’s mindgames and powers: the ability to hide among the denizens of the Span, steal Sympathy, and turn practically invisible.

Finally, I got to see how players would deal with a VERY stealable box of maybe-treasure and see how they react. Would they risk sympathy loss and steal it? The response was a resounding “No“. Even as much as they wanted to open and see what was inside, the Laws of Order made a great impression on the players, who were perfectly happy just to know what was inside and not worry about taking it for themselves. More proof that knowledge is the best reward.

 

The Library At Grogue

Floating near the middle of the Span there is a small white space station. It is easily missed and is usually only found by specific maps, but it is open to any citizen of high sympathy who seeks it out. The knowledge within is frightening to behold.

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The Library at Grogue is universally accepted as the oldest station in the Span. It is said that the elders compiled their knowledge there long ago, when the Guilds were first formed.

The station is, indeed, a repository of knowledge, though not all of it is accessible. The Judex, in their role as historians and archivists, send all of their research here and catalogue it. They cross-reference with the archives of old in the hopes of generating new discoveries.

The Historians also manage the knowledge of the Guilds who have disbanded or fallen over time–their prized archive being a fragment of the core computer of the Architects of the Stars, which remains encrypted and under tight security.

Those who visit come to gain knowledge about lost subjects–anything from fishing knots to astrophysics is kept here in tightly-managed instructional manuals available for research. This research can be studied and copied but the originals not checked out, for fear it may be lost.

The Frozen Systems

One section of the beautiful, expansive library is a restricted area called the Frozen Systems. These systems are filled with heretical and unsympathetic information. Only Judex are allowed to view these archives, and only then if it is truly necessary to identify an Artifact and be sure it must be sent into the waste.

The Frozen System contains all of the information of the World Before. It is perhaps the Overseer’s greatest threat to discovery–because this archive is the only window into the world before. Its existence is entirely necessary, for the proper identification of Artifacts to mark them for disposal. The Frozen Systems are guarded by elite Judex called The White Guard, whose sole purpose is to hunt down people to pry a little too closely into the archive’s contents.

Make sure to download the public alpha of Cold Start today at DriveThruRPG.

Seven Hours of Silence

In the Span, many colonies, provinces, and even sectors have their own cultural celebrations. The Inanis Vox, as the most popular religion, has its own holidays that it observes, but there is only one festivity that is celebrated universally among all people: The Silence Check.

As the year draws to a close, the communications mediums that connect all beings in the Span becomes fraught with “noise”, which can lead to signal disturbances over long distances. To clear this noise, every person in the Span is required, by law, to undergo a “Silence Check”, a degaussing protocol that involves turning off their nano-web system, leaving it off for a few hours, and then restarting it.

In Quiet Repose

The Seven Hours of Silence is a unique time of year. With one’s nano-web deactivated, it becomes impossible to discern the Sympathy of others. This can lead to many different reactions from different colonies: in some, this is a time of treating everyone as equals; in others, it is a time of mistrusting everyone around them. It is known that for this seven hours it is impossible for one to lose Sympathy; for this reason it is rumored the Nihilistium makes good use of this time to proselytize unpunished. It is worth noting, of course, that law enforcement that wishes to enforce the Laws of Order, or local ordinances, can of course choose to do so.

Because so much of society is based on Sympathy, the Span comes to a relative stop. Gold Men close their shops. Judex enjoy the short time the have with their families who exist outside of their realm of duty. The Blue Hand, even, simply enjoy a day of rest from their labors. The Knights, tend to keep a watchful eye over the stillness of the Span.

Silence Dreams

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After the seven hours are finished, every person in the span is required to perform a maintenance reboot on their nano-web. Doing so is a harrowing experience, and results in hallucinations as if the person has been mentally assaulted and their mind’s defenses depleted.

This reboot is filled with visions and dreams–but more often nightmares that burrow in the deepest caverns of the subconscious. Some of these visions seem to last far longer than the ten minutes or so required to reboot a Nano-Web, and psychologists take great interest in studying the phenomenon.

Worse, however, is that a percentage of the population will not successfully reboot. These poor souls remain trapped in their own fearful hallucinations until family or friends mercifully intervene and manually restart them. While usually safe to do so, it further reinforces the need for togetherness, for the fear that a person left unattended during their reboot might become stuck and unable to extract themselves, leaving them to suffer until found…if they ever are.

Celebration

audience-1850022_1280Although only the Seven Hours and the reboot are required by law, it has becomes a universal tradition to celebrate this passage of time. It is common for colonies to hold festivals, dances, feasts, and other events to cement togetherness and unity and give regards to the passing year. AFter that, the Span returns to its usual routines, and the Span continues on into another year.

Mechanics

During the seven hours of Silence, no Abilities may be activated and characters are unable to make sympathy rolls. If the character should commit an Atrocity during that time, their Sympathy roll is negated and they suffer no loss of Sympathy.

At the end of the Seven Hours of Silence, citizens are required to reboot their Nano-Web. This conscious decision reduces every citizen to 0 Mental Health Points and they suffer the same penalties, including the hallucinations brought on by a reboot of the system.

Cold Start’s Public Alpha is now available on DriveThruRPG.com. Get it for FREE today!

 

Sympathy – The Rule and Guide to Society

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The society of the span is, at its core, build with the idea of community over self. This idealogy, called Populus Est, is enforced by a powerful mandate called Sympathy.

Sympathy, to a citizen of the Span, can be described simply as one’s connection with society. THe more a person devotes themselves to society, the more society rewards them with recognition, rights, privileges, and trust. In its simplest terms, sympathy is a ranking of people from the best to the worst.

Sympathy 7 – Exemplar

Exemplars are the pinnacle of society. Becoming one takes dedication and often, sacrifice of self in service to others. All Judex are Exemplars. An examplar is nothing short of one in whose fidelity one can always place their trust.

Sympathy 6 – Paragon

flames-897428_1920A paragon of society is trustworthy and a shining example of one who serves his guild and his fellow people with fervency and zeal. This is often the highest level of sympathy one attains in their life, and often only for a short time. maintaining this standing can prove to be difficult.

Sympathy 5 – Dignitary

Those who serve well are rewarded. Among the majority of society, being a dignitary puts one a step above the masses; it is a reward for a job well done. This is the highest honor a member of the Blue Hand can hope to achieve.

Sympathy 4 – Companion

Many in society rests safely around this level of Sympathy, balancing the needs of society and their own self-interest. They can sometimes be looked down upon by those who have achieved loftier goals, but there is rarely any shame in being a companion of society.

Sympathy 3 – Libertine

Those who put their own interests first are marked with the ire of those around them. This shows an incompetence or selfishness that is noticeable, and one risks devolving further without atonement. Libertines may find their resources strangled and opportunities shuttered.

Sympathy 2 – Malefactor

Such a person is untrustworthy, certainly, and may be refused at many, more civilized, places. Eyes watch them wherever they go, observing them for violations of the Laws of Order. Some higher-class colonies may bar Malefactors entirely.

Sympathy 1 – Wretch

A wretch is a danger to those around them, and it is agreed among most that society as a whole benefits from a Wretch’s death. Few colonies will condemn the disposal of a Wretch within their midst. It is rare, but not impossible, to return from this state. Doing so requires significant atonement and dedication to rehabilitation.

Sympathy 0 – Outcast

Once a person has shunned their sympathy, there is no going back. only a Judex can declare someone outcast, but doing so causes sympathy and the Span itself to reject the creature that becomes such a degenerate. The Outcast can find no refuge among the Guilds, can learn no more Abilities, and will often disappear into the black of space to die alone. It is said, however, that the Nihilistium snaps them up and recruits them into its ranks.

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Cold Start Public Alpha to be released 12/1/16

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As I announced on facebook this morning, the public alpha is almost complete! This alpha, which will be released for FREE (or pay-what-you-want) on DriveThruRPG, will be 50-60% setting-complete and about 80-90% mechanics-complete. It will also lack much of the art of the game, which is still in development (and waiting for the kickstarter, so I can hire artists!) The feedback from this public alpha is important to the development of the game, and you’re invited.

Play the game with your friends. Tell me what you did. Tell me about your characters. What did you like? What didn’t you like? You, as players, have the chance to seriously contribute to the final product of the game.

Get ready and tell your friends. And keep an eye on the Elsewhere Media DriveThruRPG page.

For questions please send me an email to parttimerogue@gmail.com!

Red Shift Transport Club

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“Unidentified craft. Unidentified craft, please respond.”

The sound of the dashboard speaker pulled me from my slumber like the most annoying alarm clock ever. Trying to shake the wisps of whatever dream had filled my head only moments prior, I rubbed my eyes and reached in the dark for the switch, finally finding it on the console. I punched it in, my eyes still reluctant to open.

“This is Red Craft craft 775-C res–” My lungs filled with air by a sudden yawn. “–responding. What can I do for you?” I let go of the button to await a response from the long-range transmission. I’d gotten a few over the past couple of days, and none had been too helpful. Half of them were advertisements.

“Red craft, this is a Vigilant Battle Cruiser you are talking to. Surrender or prepare to engage.”

Any semblance of sleep that might clinging to my waking mind vanished instantly. This was no long-range transmission. Engage? The first vessel I have seen in weeks and it has to be a Knights’ ship. Cursing as loudly as I could, knowing no one was there to hear me, I straightened myself in my seat and took a deep breath just as another message from the enemy ship blared out over the speaker.

“Surrender now or be fired upon.”

Clearing my throat, I pressed the button on the dashboard. “Negative, Vigilant. I am simply passing through. No need to be hasty.”

“Red Vessel, we have a warrant for a craft matching your description carrying unlicensed cargo. Surrender now or we will disable and board you.”

I scanned over my screen, analyzing the craft as it came into my sensors. Fully-armored battleship indeed. What a beautiful piece of machinery. Certainly a danger to any poor hapless soul that might fly into its sights. And yet–there it was–I was no hapless soul.

I slammed some commands into the computer and smiled before punching the communications button in again. “Vigilant vessel, I really appreciate the offer, but I can safely say that you’re no threat to me at this, or any future, period. I’ll be on my way.”

The response was very irate. “Red Vessel, I’ll have you know that I have no qualms about utterly obliterating every inch of the metal you’re sitting in. Stand down.”

I punched the button in again. “And I’ll have you know that my trigger finger is accurate enough to fire a shot through your underbelly and into your main generator, flooding your cabin with nuclear material and sentencing your entire crew to a long and slow death by radiation poisoning. Meanwhile, even if you do get a shot off, My ship maneuvers with thirty percent better turning accuracy than your ammunition, meaning,” I sneered triumphantly, “You can’t even hit me. But I can hit you.”

There was a long pause. Excruciatingly long. I was ready to fire up engines at any moment if the weapons systems even dared to become active…but they didn’t. After what seemed like an eternity, the speaker came to life once more.

“Have a good night, Red. Carry on.”

The Need for Speedspace-ship-373387_r

The Span is immense, stretching from the blazing star in the center to the coldest reaches of the outer bodies. With countless moons, floating stations, and vast empty regions of space where things and people can hide, it is no wonder that a guild would be dedicated to the power of movement.

Enter the Red Shift Club, a group dedicated to the transportation of people and materials to wheresoever they need to be dispersed.

The Red Shift club owns, maintains, and provides transportation vessels, both for public and private use. Their inventory spans all classes of technology, from sturdy carriages to powerful and fast nuclear-powered interstellar ships. They make deliveries of materials both perfectly legal and somewhat questionable in nature, and live on a reputation of dependability.

Members of Red Shift are themselves very daring and sometimes considered fearless. They traverse dangerous areas of space without blinking an eye. Rumors that potential Red Shift members have their brain chemistry altered to reduce their fear response ar, of course, just conjecture.

Red Contracts

The Club operates under a loose set of guidelines, which allow it to operate with some manner of agency of its own. One of these tools is a Red Contract, a document detailing a job before being hired. These contracts include the amount to be paid and the kind of cargo or people being transported, along with what is called The Crimson Clause: If an employer breaks his end of the contract, he can never hire the Red Shift again. With transportation so monopolized by this guild, such a  prospect is devastating, and often leads an individual to be stuck permanently in whatever place he decided to make such a bad life decision.

The Structure of the Club

The red planet of Aecedia is a haven of raw metals and materials, and there the massive industrial complex of of Post No.1 is located. At the edge of the ice-covered polar mountains of the planet, the sprawling city there serves both as a garage to the many fleet ships, a training ground for new pilots, and a distribution center for items being shipped. The leader of the Red Shift, Nox, does not reside there herself, but prefers to travel as much as she can throughout the Span on a ship seeking adventure. She is a leader of high respect for her leadership skills and exceptional track record under fire. Her main advisors, “The Crew”, direct the Club’s factions remotely.

Main Factions

rocket-launch-437218_sName: The Scouts
Leader: Wrench

This faction, specifically, deals in reconnaissance, and brings back information. They are stealthy and often act secretly, preferring to explore new places over spending too long dealing with a Ward’s petty politics.


Name: Daredevils

Leader: Crackshot

The thrill of speed and danger drives this faction to seek out dangerous and so-called “impossible” jobs. Somehow, this group manages to do what others fail to even contemplate attempting. They tend to be motivated less by money and more by the prospect of brushing with death on a regular basis.


Name: Runners

Leader: Pinyaga

The delivery men of the Red Shift Club, this group has the reputation for an unprecedented number of successful deliveries of all kinds of goods. It is rumored they know secret routes and employ advanced technologies to avoid detection and make their deadlines.

Name: Pilots
Leader: Razz

People are a precious cargo no matter how you slice it, and as such one of the most popular factions of the Guild are the Poliots, who pride themselves as the unquestioned masters of the open void of space. Consistent and often bound by long-term contracts, Pilots can make a very enviable living in this work, whether hired by a company, a private citizen, or even a guild for dependable work.

 

Order of Valiance Eternal, “Knights”

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“The sky is so lovely tonight,” she said, pulling closer to me with a smile. I looked up, to see the massive, swirling shape of Ira hanging menacingly in the sky, like a giant face scowling down at them as they strolled along the sidewalk.

I smiled down at her. “Yes, it is, but not nearly as lovely as you, my dear.”

She blushed and looked away. “Oh, stop it, you’re embarrassing–“

The shound of shattering glass disrupted our flirtatious moment, and I released her waist, instictively reaching for a tool on my belt. SHe knew what this meant and out of the corner of my eye I saw her vanish into the darkness.

I rounded the corner, pulling my weapon from its holster and scanning the street. My eyes flickered as a targeting system crossed my field of view, and the darkness lightened as my eyes automatically adjusted to the darkness. There it was–a man slinking through a broken window.

“Hey!” I gave chase as he vanished into the building, and with a great leap I bounded to the sill, slipping inside and landing on the soft carpeted floor. The perp, however, was a few steps ahead of me, and he toppled a bookcase as he dashed through the opposite doorway. I scaled it and dove for his figure as it retreated, but my hands grabbed only air–a projection! In my distraction the perp had gone up the stairs. Clever.

Finding my footing, I took the staircase three at a time and ended up on a quiet landing. Slowly, I moved down the carpeted hallway toward the door at the end. I tried to make no noise at all.

From the doorway, two shots rang out, hitting me and knocking me backward down the stairs. Tumbling end over end, I landed in a heap at the bottom.

The perp crept down the stairs after me, carrying something in his arms. I could feel the warm blood pulsing over my face as I laid there, gasping for breath. He reached the door, not saying a word as he opened it–

And fell backward as he was immobilized by an unseen force. Thrown from ceiling to wall, he dropped whatever he had been stealing as he was violently forced across the room to land in a beaten pile in the corner.

I stood up, pulling the bullets from my neck and chest with a grimace as my wife walked through the doorway She slapped a restraint on the limp thief’s form. “You okay, honey?”

I smiled. “Always.”

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To Serve and Protect

Each Guild has their own group of enforcers that provide muscle whenever needed. The Span as a whole, however, relies on the might and force of a dedicated group of militarized lawkeepers: The Noble Order of Valiance Eternal.

Members of this guild are feared and respected by those whom they encounter, for several reasons. First, the Knights’ training at the frozen Mizu Stronghold is unbearably harsh, which hardens the Guild members against many kinds of physical force. Second, that the Guild has never lost a war in its history. And third, that the powers of a Knight are devastatingly effective and breaching the other Guilds’ defenses.

The Mizu Stronghold Training Center

strongholdBeyond the ice walls of the Mizu Stronghold on a frozen moon of Ira, a massive fortification exists with environmental test chambers for training. Recruits who enter and put through strenuous and often painful training exercises in all sorts of environments to hon their skills and push them to their absolute limits. These training exercises can be deadly–is it well known that at each Graduation, the names of those who died that year are read out. It is estimated that nearly half of the Stronghold’s candidates do not graduate; they either drop out or perish.

With such a foreboding record, it is therefore surprising that the Stronghold entertains so many applications. Some enter for the thrill, or as the ultimate challenge, while others have an overwhelming sense of duty. A large portion, however, join with a single goal: to have a better life.

Mizu candidates, upon entry, meet with a coordinator who provides them with an entirely new identity for their time within. They are divested of all of their belongings and money. They then sign a binding agreement not to discuss their outside lives while within. As such, all people entering the fortress do so as equals in all things. Those who graduate from the academy are considered to be nobility and are afforded honors and respect, regardless of their lives beforehand. This is a very attractive proposition for children born on very poor colonies in the Span.

The Structure of the Knights

The Knights are a militaristic order, structured with a reliance on direct chains of command. Individual knights have commanding officers they report to, all the way up to the Knight Captain. It is inevitable, of course, that the Knights and the Judex be entwined in each others’ affairs–the Knights being the enforcers of the Judex’ will after all.

This chain of command does not mean that all of the Knights’ work is always above-table. It is very common for Knights to take odd jobs in their off-hours, working for corporations or even wealthy private citizens who need a problem done right.

Knight Captain Cierra Edgemoor maintains a circle of Commanders, who each maintain different guild duties. A few of these are:

Name: Peace Officers
Leader: Commander Eppinberg

The social arm of the Knights, Peace Officers are tasked with resolving inter-guild disputes and carrying out rulings involving personal disagreements. They are also the “face” of the guild, interacting with communities in a positive way.

Name: Ironguard
Leader: Commander Tomasson

The most powerful and physically threatening of the Knights join this unit, whose sole purpose is to enforce the laws of the Span with a disgusting amount of force. They rarely deal with local squabbles, instead being sent where needed to manage threats which require a distinct lack of mercy.

Name: Detectives
Leader: Commander Winters

This faction, as their name suggests, investigates crimes locally. They are among the most common members of this Guild encountered by the general populous.

Name: Tracers
Leader: Commander Hare

The Span has its fair share of fugitives. Tracers are the retrieval arm of the Guild, entering dangerous territories and situations to extract people with minimal civilian impact.

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